Marketing to the ‘elderly’: Overcoming the taboo of getting old

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: World health organisation, Gerontology, Old age

There is a need for public health strategies and products to address Europe's rapidly ageing population – but how easy is it to market such products when nobody wants to admit that they’re getting old?

Europe is ageing rapidly. Its average age is already the highest in the world and the proportion of people aged 65 and over is forecast to nearly double between 2010 and 2050, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This represents both a public health challenge and commercial opportunity.

But companies looking to target this ‘mature’ market must beware the taboo of getting old, says Mintel global food science analyst Laura-Daisy Jones.

“In targeting seniors today it’s about positioning products on an ageless platform,”​ she told us at the industry event Food Ingredients Europe (FiE) in Paris.

“We know that in Western cultures they don’t particularly like to be told they are old. So keeping it open and talking about areas of health such as cardiovascular health, bone health and brain health which are the three top concerns for the ageing population.”

Fortified Food Coatings is one company that has come up against this marketing challenge with its fortified ready meal coatings.  

Diederik Bruins, CEO and founder of the start-up, said it explicitly talked about “food for the elderly”​ when it came to discussions with suppliers, hospitals and manufacturers, but when it came to communicating to consumers the message had to be changed.

“For consumers we don’t talk about food for the elderly. We talk about the benefits of calcium, of having vitamin D added but it is in general for everybody above 40 an important thing to do. So there is no need to – on a consumer level – actually explain this.”

Avoiding the trap 

This is something Bruins said he himself could relate to – adding you’re as old as you feel.

“I’m 46. I have grey hair. Some people might call me senior, but I enjoy food. So I think it’s not right to fall into the trap of saying someone is old or somebody is senior because there are a lot of very healthy and vital-living people who exercise, who travel the world, who have fun, who laugh, who go out and do sport but they are past 65.

“So should we call them seniors, or grey haired or silver haired? Or people with many deficiencies? No.”

Yet Jones said this taboo was largely a western phenomenon.

In countries like China and Japan it was revered to be old and seen as a mark of wisdom and status.

This attitude was reflected in the market.

The two countries account for the biggest proportion of senior-targeted food and drink launches globally, she said. 

“Growing old isn’t viewed as it is in Western cultures where no one wants to be told they’re old and the idea that we’re targeting them with special product kind of scares off a lot of [Western] consumers.”

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